Looking beyond the major storylines of Saturday’s win in Bloomington, a few under-the-radar themes emerged that are going to loom big for the Scarlet Knights moving forward.
After the blowout that Rutgers suffered to Wisconsin, faced with the possibility of Noah Vedral not playing and other starters dealing with injuries, things were looking bleak for the Scarlet Knights as they traveled to Bloomington for a game played in the cold in front of a sparsely filled stadium.
But Rutgers being Rutgers, the opposite happened. They earned the most lopsided victory against a Big Ten opponent since the Scarlet Knights joined the league in 2014.
Six turnovers and an uninspired opponent down to its fourth quarterback on the pre-season depth chart, along with a walk-on running back will do wonders for a team, no matter how well coached. But that is football and Rutgers is well familiar with being on the other side of these types of games.
Shortly before the game, all three starting linebackers were declared out. The Scarlet Knights would be without Olakunle Fatukasi, Tyshon Fogg and Tyreek Maddux-Williams. This group, arguably the best and most experienced position group, not playing left most of the fanbase seeing doom written all over Memorial Field.
In their absence, Schiano would need to rely on a redshirt freshman Tyreem Powell without a start to his credit and a journeyman linebacker Drew Singleton, who had just eight starts over his five-year career. Singleton led Rutgers with ten tackles and Powell making his first start made an interception when Indiana tried to salvage the game with injured quarterback Jack Tuttle.
There was talk that Rutgers made schematic changes to compensate for all three linebackers being out, but it was really nothing more than situational football that Rutgers has been using all season.
“It’s really about coaching and playing because there weren’t any great schematic adjustments,’’ Schiano said. “That’s kind of what we play. I think Singleton and Powell really stepped up big. They did a heck of a job. As I told our team, ‘don’t tell me what we don’t have. … Let’s find a way to do it.’ I thought our kids did a really good job, and I think our (defensive) coaches did too.’’
Powell is one of over a dozen first and second year players who are getting various degrees of playing time this season.
One of the major things that make programs like Ohio State who they are is there is little drop-off when a starter goes down. It is still a long way till the Scarlet Knights have that kind of depth. Slowly and unnoticed by segments of the fan base and media, Greg Schiano and his staff are building towards this.
Also, the Indiana game was significant because Gavin Wimsatt saw some playing time. Winsatt is the future and will provide Rutgers with special skill set at the most important position on the field. Having a potential playmaking difference-maker quarterback added to a roster with improved depth and a coaching staff that knows how to build a program based on the right culture is a development beginning to take shape in Piscataway.
What we are all witnessing is the building of a football program. Not a team, but a program.